MUSCATINE, Iowa — For the fourth year, Joyce Phillips and other volunteers are creating handmade bags to give people in Haiti something unique.

Phillips said she first learned of the idea when she became part of a similar project in Texas, and she decided to start the effort in Muscatine.

The Muscatine Journal ( ) reports that Jim Wester, of the Muscatine area, travels to Haiti every year with St. John Vianney Catholic Church in Bettendorf, and the small cotton 11 inch by 18 inch bags travel with him.

He told Phillips that he used to keep pills and necessary items in plastic bags, but she wanted to give them something a little more colorful.

“Just a little bit of material will make something so special for somebody,” she said.

Last year, she said, more than 3,000 bags were made for Wester to take. They are often made of leftover fabric, which people have donated to Phillips and the other sewers.

Sisters Mary K. Hackney, of Camanche, and Jeanne Eble, of Blue Grass, sat with Phillips in the back of Neal’s Vacuum and Sewing Center, making the bags of various patterns of fabric. The project, she said was just one of charity projects they sew for together.

“That’s what we do,” they said.

Wester said he travels to Haiti nearly every year for about a week, and he said patients are not only provided with prescriptions so the bags are a useful gift.

“It’s a godsend, it really, really is because we see close to 2,000 patients in a week’s time, and not only do we give them medicines but we give them toiletries as well, so prescriptions and goody bags, with toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, kids will have a little toy as well,” he said.

He said that during the 12- and 13-hour days, having special bags for the patients to take home can makes his and their day.

“It means the world, not only to us but also to the patients, they are extremely extremely grateful,” Wester said.

While the pill bags are only one function of the whole trip, Wester said everyone appreciates that function.

“The bags are the perfect size, not only use them to take home the goodies, but they’ll even use them as a purse or something like that,” he said.

The sewing day on Tuesday brought more than six volunteers to Neal’s Vacuum and Sewing Center, which hosted the quilters and helpful hands making the pill bags.

For those who may not have had the chance to attend the sewing day, instructions can be found on the Neal’s Vacuum and Sewing website, and Phillips said donating scraps and squares of fabric, as well as ribbon for the drawstrings, can be helpful.

Information from: Muscatine Journal,

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